As Pax Christi International turns 75 this year, members of Pax Christi Aotearoa New Zealand marked the anniversary by remembering the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings with a liturgy for peace.
Pax Christi national coordinator Kevin McBride said both anniversaries are being marked, as Pax Christi was a movement which started towards the end of World War II. The liturgy was scheduled to be held on August 9 at the Peace Place on Emily Place in Auckland.
“Pax Christi itself arose from World War II when a French woman, Marthe Dortel-Claudot, and [the] Bishop of Montauban, Pierre Marie Théas, had been part of a sort of pilgrimage of prayer,” he said.
Mrs Dortel-Claudot, who lived in Southern France close to the border with Germany, suggested to Bishop Théas that they cross the border and pray with the people there.
“The idea behind it was the ongoing enmity — which had enabled World War I to turn into World War II — would be overcome by former enemies joining together in prayer,” Mr McBride said.
During that “pilgrimage of prayer”, Pax Christi was born.
Supported by Archbishop Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, who later became Pope St John XXIII, the group eventually became a movement for prayer, study and action.
The New Zealand group was formed in the early 1990s when the Auckland diocese Justice, Peace and Development Commission was restructured to give way to Caritas New Zealand. Members of the commission decided to form Pax Christi locally. In 1993, the group was inaugurated as a full section of Pax Christi International.
National promoter Sr Bridget Crisp, RSM, said a focus of the group is the support for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons or ICAN.
Long-time member Judith Crimmins explained there was supposed to be an international meeting of the group in Hiroshima in May, but the event was cancelled due to the pandemic.
Sr Bridget said Japan has been opposed, not only to nuclear weapons, but also the use of nuclear power after the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster.
“Not many people are aware of the amount of nuclear testing happening in the Pacific. We only know about . . . Muroroa. There has been a little [information] about the Marshall Islands, but then you have got Kirimati (Christmas Island, part of Kiribati) and the other islands. The British were testing [there] as well,” Sr Bridget said, adding that spreading information is part of the study aspect of the group.
Mr McBride said Pax Christi does not set out to be an organisation. ,
“It’s main role is networking and becoming involved in existing movements, not wanting to set out anything new, but to become involved in what is already there and bring the Christian peace spirit, if you like, into those movements,” he said.
The group had close connections with East Timor, which had successfully become independent from Indonesia.
“We set up a direct relationship with people in East Timor and brought people out here to tell their story. We took Timorese people to the New Zealand Government,” he said.
In West Papua, where the struggle is ongoing, Pax Christi has assisted people from the justice and peace groups of the Church there to come to New Zealand, and learn English and, with the help of the help of the Franciscans, to study.
Ms Crimmins said the group also discusses peace issues at international meetings, adding that they need to be sensitive to members who might come from opposing groups, like Indonesia and East Timor.
She recalled speaking to a fellow member one night during a conference in Mainz, Germany. She said his story had an impact on her. He lived 20 minutes away from Tel Aviv’s airport but, because he was Palestinian, he wasn’t allowed to fly in there, but had to go through Lebanon. “If that’s not racism, what is?” she asked.
The group is very aware that some of the issues around peace, or lack thereof, has to do with colonialism, a topic that they need to tread on carefully given New Zealand’s own colonial past.
“We need to be careful in criticising the Indonesians in West Papua, because our country is based on successful colonisation,” Mr McBride said.
“We have to work very sensitively in that whole area, and with an awareness of our own history, and the ongoing obligation to actually address issues which have arisen from colonisation in New Zealand. And that’s why, for example, we’ve had people out helping with Ihumatao out of the airport.”
Mr McBride said, at one point, the group had become involved in a housing project to promote peace in the community. “In the end, we gave it up. It was just too difficult for an organisation like ours to run,” he said.
Prayer, study and action
The group focuses on prayer, study and action. To this end, they have helped publish Susan Healy’s edited book Listening to the People of the Land: Christianity, Colonisation and the Path to Redemption, as well as put together a booklet called Praying for Peace.
The group is also encouraging people to set up Pax Christi in their communities.
“Depending on where they are in the country, I would try to encourage them to set up a little local Pax Christi,” said Sr Bridget. “If anyone is interested in being part of our mailing list, or even joining a Pax Christi group around the country doing prayer, study, action, and if they are just needing help starting off, they are most welcome to contact me,” she added.
Sr Bridget can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org.